In games and movies alike, there's always been the classic story of the hero who traverses the evil lord's castle in an attempt to either free the princess locked inside or help guide her to safety and escape. This premise holds true for GungHo Online Entertainment America's first North American release, Dokuro, but with an interesting twist. Instead of a dashing hero, in Dokuro you take up the role of one of the Dark Lord's skeletal servants who has a change of heart and decides to help the princess escape. With a unique mix of standard and touch-based controls along with an impressive chalk-like art style, is Dokuro a rare archaeological find or just a bag of bones?
If you've played Ico before, you'll find the gameplay in Dokuro right at home. The Dark Lord's castle features a number of traps ranging from spike pits to enemies blocking the princess's progress, just to name a few. Your job as Dokuro is to guide the princess through the level unharmed as she automatically moves forward. That isn't to say she'll just walk into pits or enemies willy-nilly, though. She won't walk into chasms or spikes either and she'll attempt (sometimes unsuccessfully) to flee enemies, but your job as Dokuro is to use the standard and touch controls to provide safe passage for the princess.
In his default form, Dokuro isn't very powerful but is exceptionally nimble with his double-jump ability and perform a weak melee. There is also a system via the touch screen which utilises chalk. White chalk connects objects together, red chalk lights fires and blue chalk creates water. For example, one of the levels requires the player to double-jump onto a platform and defeat an enemy which lets him reach a lever. After connecting the nearby boulder to the rope using the white chalk, the player then flips the switch to cause the boulder to swing back and forth until it destroys the nearby wall. Behind the wall is a switch that lowers the platform so the princess can safely walk across to the exit.
In a twist, it's revealed that Dokuro at one time was once human and can temporarily change back into his human form after finding a mysterious potion during the game. He loses his ability to double-jump but gains the ability to perform better in combat, but he can also pick up the princess and carry her through areas that wouldn't be possible to traverse quickly enough herself. Of course, the catch is that Dokuro can only hold this form for so long before he reverts back to his bony old self and needs to recharge. So in the later levels once all of the abilities are acquired it requires players to utilize all of Dokuro's abilities to progress through the 10 level batches that make up each stage.
In execution, however, this does lead to some frustration. Some of the later levels take a good couple minutes to complete, but when there's no checkpoint system in place soeven the slightest error will force you to start back at the beginning of the level. The game does take after Super Meat Boy in the sense that the controls are spot-on and you instantly revive upon death, but it's still annoying when you're perfectly laid plans go to waste because you accidentally made the wrong move right at the end. On a side note, there are collectable coins hidden in each level which require some fancy footwork to get to and a trophy for completing all of the stages in a set cumulative time, so there's plenty of reasons to retry old levels if you want.
The art direction in Dokuro is probably one of its biggest highlights. In both the cutscenes and the gameplay, Dokuro utilizes a charcoal and chalk-inspired motif that makes what needs to stand out stand out thanks to the PlayStation Vita's OLED screen. As far as the music goes, Dokuro's soundtrack isn't very memorable outside of the game, but it does fit very well when pitted alongside the game itself. And when the later levels take a fair bit of time to complete this is a definite bonus.
This PlayStation Network title was a retail release in Japan, which most certainly shows in the 150 levels (15 stages with 10 levels each) present in Dokuro. The lack of a mid-level checkpoint system is a bit of a annoyance later in the game, but the quickness in restarting each level upon dying makes up for that to some degree. If you like puzzlers and want some platformer elements put into the mix, Dokuro is worth the purchase.
|» Wonderful artistic direction.|
|» Controls feel spot-on.|
|» Rewards players who spend the time to analyze how to best traverse the stage and those who find the coins hidden in the nooks and crannies.|
|» No mid-level checkpoint system.|
|» Music isn't that memorable outside the game.|
|» If you hated games like Super Meat Boy, this might not be your cup of tea.|